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do people actually respect the nuances of 探す vs 捜す?

There are many kanji that I have come across with similar meanings, and (seemly coincidentally) identical readings. But the kanji in question look entirely different from each other. This particular aspect of kanji has been helpful to me, as it makes memorizing readings and associating meanings much easier, but I have also found it intriguing.

Some examples:

元 and 源 are both read as "gen", and both carry a meaning of "source or origin".

元 and 本 are both read as "moto", and both carry a meaning of "root or origin".

内 and 家 are both read as "uchi", and carry a meaning of "inner" and "home", respectively (related by the "inner circle" aspect of Japanese culture)."

他 and 外 are both read as "hoka", and carry the meanings of "other" and "outside", respectively.

小 and 少 are both read as "shou", and carry the meanings of "small" and "few", respectively.

神 and 上 are both read as "kami", and carry the meanings of "god" and "above", respectively.

空ける and 開ける are both read as "akeru", both mean "to open", and their kanji translate to "empty" and "open", respectively.

The humble form of "person" is 者, and is pronounced "mono", as if referring to the person as "a thing" (物).

Finally, the adjective for "ugly", 醜い, is read "minikui". This is identical to 見にくい or 見難い, which is an entire phrase meaning "hard to look at".

There are a lot more examples that I can think of, but I omitted most of them for the sake of brevity. Is this just a series of coincidences, or is there an etymological or historical reason for this?

marked as duplicate by user458, Dave Aug 6 '12 at 23:55

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  • 神 and 上 have definitely different meanings. – Gradius Aug 7 '12 at 8:16
  • No, they really don't. – Ataraxia Aug 7 '12 at 12:21
  • @Gradius It depends on how you look at it, but I really don't see how you could consider them as not related. – Ataraxia Aug 7 '12 at 13:11
  • Your other examples mentioned above actually may confuse even the modern Japanese people. I think that is the topic of this question. However, I totally can't understand why you are confused with 神 and 上 in actual use. Are you possibly confused which character should be used, 神 or 上? If so, can you give an example? – Gradius Aug 8 '12 at 3:01
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    I didn't write about this, but actually, it is doubted that 上 and 神 are etymologically related. Most of scholars don't believe that they are related. Ancient Japanese texts reveal that 神 and 上 were pronounced differently (they had different み sounds), though the origin of the word 神 is still unknown. – Gradius Aug 8 '12 at 3:26